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John Donne John Donne

JOHN DONNE

Poet and Priest

1572-1631







Part 3: The Sacking of Cadiz and the Voyage to the Azores

NARRATOR: In 1595 Donne's mother Elizabeth left for Catholic exile to settle in Antwerp.  Meanwhile, entranced by Sir Walter Raleigh's colonial expedition to South America, Donne was thinking of sailing away with Protestants.  It was rumoured that Spain was planning another Armada and in early 1596 the dashing Earl of Essex planned a pre-emptive strike for honour and fortune against the port of Cadiz.

Donne was among the 300 gentlemen volunteers from Lincoln's Inn, described as 'green headed youths, covered with feathers, gold and silver lace'.  In volunteering, Donne was proving his patriotism and loyalty to the Queen and beginning to relinquish his Catholicism.

In His Picture he upsets his real or imagined lover by telling her what he will look like on his return.
DONNE: Here take my picture; though I bid farewell
Thine, in my heart, where my soul dwells, shall dwell.
'Tis like me now, but I dead, 'twill be more
When we are shadows both, than 'twas before.
When weather-beaten I come back, my hand
Perhaps with rude oars torn, or sun beams tann'd,
My face and breast of haircloth, and my head
With care's rash sudden storms being o'erspread,
My body'a sack of bones, broken within,
And powder's blue stains scatter'd on my skin;
If rival fools tax thee to'have lov'd a man
So foul and coarse as, oh, I may seem then,
This shall say what I was, and thou shalt say,
"Do his hurts reach me? doth my worth decay?
Or do they reach his judging mind, that he
Should now love less, what he did love to see?
That which in him was fair and delicate,
Was but the milk which in love's childish state
Did nurse it; who now is grown strong enough
To feed on that, which to disus'd tastes seems tough."
NARRATOR: Cadiz was plundered and left in flames.  Back home Donne was disillusioned by London life.  Throughout his life he had a restless desire for work and worldly success.

English Ships and the Spanish Armada, August 1588, English school, 16th century, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
So he joined another expedition to the Azores in 1597.  The plan was to hijack the annual fleet of Spanish treasure ships from the Indies.

But just out from Plymouth the force of now 6,000 volunteers were caught in a storm:
DONNE: England, to whom we owe what we be and have,
Sad that her sons did seek a foreign grave
- For Fate's or Fortune's drifts none can soothsay;
Honour and misery have one face, and way -
From out her pregnant entrails sigh'd a wind,
Which at th' air's middle marble room did find
Such strong resistance, that itself it threw
Downward again; and so when it did view
How in the port our fleet dear time did leese,
Withering like prisoners, which lie but for fees,
Mildly it kiss'd our sails, and fresh and sweet
- As to a stomach starved, whose insides meet,
Meat comes - it came; and swole our sails, when we
So joy'd, as Sarah her swelling joy'd to see.
But 'twas but so kind as our countrymen,
Which bring friends one day's way, and leave them then.
Then like two mighty kings, which dwelling far
Asunder, meet against a third to war,
The south and west winds join'd, and, as they blew,
Waves like a rolling trench before them threw.
Sooner than you read this line, did the gale,
Like shot, not fear'd till felt, our sails assail;
And what at first was call'd a gust, the same
Hath now a storm's, anon a tempest's name.
Jonas, I pity thee, and curse those men
Who, when the storm raged most, did wake thee then.
Sleep is pain's easiest salve, and doth fulfil
All offices of death, except to kill.
But when I waked, I saw that I saw not;
I, and the sun, which should teach me, had forgot
East, west, day, nightĘ; and I could only say,
If th' world had lasted, now it had been day.
Thousands our noises were, yet we 'mongst all
Could none by his right name, but thunder, call.
Lightning was all our light, and it rain'd more
Than if the sun had drunk the sea before.
Some coffin'd in their cabins lie, equally
Grieved that they are not dead, and yet must die;
And as sin-burden'd souls from grave will creep
At the last day, some forth their cabins peep,
And trembling ask, "What news?" and do hear so
As jealous husbands, what they would not know.
Some sitting on the hatches would seem there
With hideous gazing to fear away fear.
Then note they the ship's sicknesses, the mast
Shaked with an ague, and the hold and waist
With a salt dropsy clogg'd, and all our tacklings
Snapping, like too-too-high-stretch'd treble strings.
And from our tatter'd sails rags drop down so,
As from one hang'd in chains a year ago.
Even our ordnance, placed for our defence,
Strive to break loose, and 'scape away from thence.
Pumping hath tired our men, and what's the gain?
Seas into seas thrown, we suck in again;
Hearing hath deaf'd our sailors, and if they
Knew how to hear, there's none knows what to say.
Compared to these storms, death is but a qualm,
Hell somewhat lightsome, the Bermudas calm.
Darkness, light's eldest brother, his birthright
Claims o'er the world, and to heaven hath chasèd light.
All things are one, and that one none can be,
Since all forms uniform deformity
Doth cover; so that we, except God say
Another Fiat, shall have no more day.
So violent, yet long, these furies be,
That though thine absence starve me, I wish not thee.
NARRATOR: Many of the volunteers not used to life at sea crept back home.  When Donne finally reached the Azores, as part of Sir Walter Raleigh's fleet, they were becalmed.  The tropical heat combined with enforced idleness was anathema to Donne.  He wrote another very popular poem at the time: The Calm.
DONNE: OUR storm is past, and that storm's tyrannous rage
A stupid calm, but nothing it, doth 'suage.
The fable is inverted, and far more
A block afflicts, now, than a stork before.
Storms chafe, and soon wear out themselves, or us;
In calms, Heaven laughs to see us languish thus.
As steady as I could wish my thoughts were,
Smooth as thy mistress' glass, or what shines there,
The sea is now, and, as these isles which we
Seek, when we can move, our ships rooted be.
As water did in storms, now pitch runs out;
As lead, when a fired church becomes one spout.
And all our beauty and our trim decays,
Like courts removing, or like ended plays.
The fighting-place now seamen's rags supply;
And all the tackling is a frippery.
No use of lanthorns ; and in one place lay
Feathers and dust, to-day and yesterday.
Earth's hollownesses, which the world's lungs are,
Have no more wind than th' upper vault of air.
We can nor lost friends nor sought foes recover,
But meteor-like, save that we move not, hover.
Only the calenture together draws
Dear friends, which meet dead in great fishes' maws;
And on the hatches, as on altars, lies
Each one, his own priest and own sacrifice.
Who live, that miracle do multiply,
Where walkers in hot ovens do not die.
If in despite of these we swim, that hath
No more refreshing than a brimstone bath;
But from the sea into the ship we turn,
Like parboil'd wretches, on the coals to burn.
Like Bajazet encaged, the shepherds' scoff,
Or like slack-sinew'd Samson, his hair off,
Languish our ships. Now as a myriad
Of ants durst th' emperor's loved snake invade,
The crawling gallies, sea-gulls, finny chips,
Might brave our pinnaces, now bed-rid ships.
Whether a rotten state, and hope of gain,
Or to disuse me from the queasy pain
Of being beloved and loving, or the thirst
Of honour or fair death, out-push'd me first,
I lose my end ; for here, as well as I,
A desperate may live, and coward die.
Stag, dog, and all which from or towards flies,
Is paid with life or prey, or doing dies.
Fate grudges us all, and doth subtly lay
A scourge, 'gainst which we all forget to pray.
He that at sea prays for more wind, as well
Under the poles may beg cold, heat in hell.
What are we then? How little more, alas,
Is man now, than, before he was, he was?
Nothing for us, we are for nothing fit;
Chance, or ourselves, still disproportion it.
We have no power, no will, no sense ; I lie,
I should not then thus feel this misery.
NARRATOR: After the calm, a small contingent from Raleigh's fleet raided and dislodged the Spanish Garrison, who fled to the woods.  The glory of this episode was so considerable that Essex, Raleigh's commanding officer, arriving late and jealous on the scene, threatened Raleigh with court martial.  While they were bickering the Spanish treasure fleet slipped away and the mission was a flop.  Not however for Donne.  (See part 4 below.)

Part 4: Secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton and The Courting of Ann More


Contents of Donne Pages.

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We recommend four biographies: the outstanding Donne, The Reformed Soul by John Stubbs.  Robert Nye writes: "It is the best life of Donne, which I for one have ever read.  If this marvellous book doesn't win one of the major literary prizes,then we have the wrong judges."  We also recommend Man of Flesh and Spirit by David L Edwards, former Speaker's Chaplain in the House of Commons, and John Donne, Life, Mind and Art by John Carey, former Chairman of the Manbooker Prize and very successful beekeeper, and of course the first biography by Izaak Walton, who also wrote the classic, The Compleat Angler.